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New Mexico's Carlsbad Caverns National Park - An Overview

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Hall of Giants, Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

Stalagmites act as silent sentinels in the Hall of Giants section of Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

© The Javelina via Flickr

Overview:

Will Rogers once referred to New Mexico's Carlsbad Caverns as the “Grand Canyon with a roof on it,” which is pretty accurate. This underworld lies beneath the Guadalupe Mountains and is one of the deepest, largest, and most ornate caverns ever discovered.

History:

The area was proclaimed Carlsbad Cave National Monument on October 25, 1923 and established as Carlsbad Caverns National Park on May 14, 1930. The park was also designated a World Heritage Site on December 9, 1995.

The park has two historic districts on the National Register of Historic Places—the Cavern Historic District and the Rattlesnake Springs Historic District. The park museum, including the park archives, contains about 1,000,000 cultural resource specimens preserved and protected for future generations.

When to Visit:

The park is open year-round but it is one of the best national parks to visit in spring. During spring, the desert is in bloom and is even more stunning to see. Visitors who plan a trip from April or early May through October can see bats fly.

Getting There:

Carlsbad Caverns National Park's only entrance road can be reached by New Mexico Highway 7. Turn north from US Hwy 62/180 at Whites City, NM, which is 20 miles southwest of Carlsbad, NM and 145 miles northeast of El Paso, TX. The entrance road stretches a scenic 7-miles from the park gate at Whites City to the Visitor Center and cavern entrance.

Carlsbad is served by Greyhound and TNM&O bus lines. New Mexico Airlines offers passenger service between Carlsbad and Albuquerque, while major airlines serve Roswell and Albuquerque, NM, and El Paso, Lubbock and Midland, TX.

Fees/Permits:

All visitors who enter Carlsbad Cavern for any tour are required to purchase an Entrance Fee ticket. This ticket is good for 3 days. If you own an America the Beautiful - National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass, the pass admits the cardholder plus plus three adults.

If you plan on backcountry camping in the park you will need to obtain a free backcountry use permit at the visitor center.

Ranger-guided tours all have fees and are listed below:

  • Kings Palace. $8 for adults, $4 for children, under 4 not permitted. Must also purchase Entrance Fee ticket. $4 for Senior and Access Pass holders.
  • Left Hand Tunnel. $7 for adults, $3.50 for children, under 6 not permitted. Must also purchase Entrance Fee ticket. $3.50 for Senior and Access Pass holders.
  • Slaughter Canyon Cave. $15 for adults, $7.50 for children, under 8not permitted. $7.50 for Senior and Access Pass holders.
  • Lower Cave. $20 for adults, $10 for children, under 12 not permitted. Must also purchase Entrance Fee ticket. $10 for Senior and Access Pass holders.
  • Hall of the White Giant. $20 for adults, $10 for children, under 12 not permitted. Must also purchase Entrance Fee ticket. $10 for Senior and Access Pass holders.
  • Spider Cave. $20 for adults, $10 for children, under 12 not permitted. $10 for Senior and Access Pass holders.

Things to Do:

Guided Cave Tours: Guided tours of varying difficulties in Carlsbad Cavern and other park caves are available. To reserve tickets for a guided tour, call (877) 444-6777 or visit Recreation.gov.

Self-Guide Cave Tours: All visitors should tour the main section of the cave, the Big Room self-guided tour. The Natural Entrance self-guided tour is also very impressive, but it is not recommended for visitors with any kind of health problems as it is very steep. Tickets are sold at the visitor center each day, except December 25. Entrance fee tickets are good for three days but do not include guided or other special tours.

Bat Flight Program: Prior to the evening bat flight, a program is given at the cavern entrance by a park ranger. The starting time of the talk varies with sunset so be sure to call the park at (575) 785-3012 or check at the visitor center for the exact time. Bat flight programs are scheduled from Memorial Day weekend through mid-October and are free of charge. The best bat flights normally occur in July and August.

Junior Ranger Program: To become a Junior Ranger, request a free junior ranger activity book at the Visitor Center. After completing the age appropriate requirements, and reviewing their work with a ranger, participants are awarded an official Junior Ranger patch or badge.

Major Attractions:

Main Corridor: Once in the mouth of the cave, visitors will see 1,000-year-old red and black pictographs high on the walls. The corridor showcases the cavern’s enormity.

Iceberg Rock: A 200,000-ton boulder that crashed down from the ceiling thousands of years ago.

Big Room: The largest single room most visitors see (unless they go to Borneo), this room is 1,800 feet long and 1,100 feet wide.

Hall of Giants: Showcases some of the largest formations in the cave.

Desert Nature Trail: This easy half-mile trail is best enjoyed right before the evening bat flight program.

Crystal Spring Dome: The cave’s largest active stalagmite.

Slaughter Canyon Cave: For those looking for adventure, you will find it on this guided tour. This “unimproved” cave will have you slipping and sliding around for a few hours.

Accommodations:

There is no lodging available within the park. Camping is allowed only in the backcountry, at least a half-mile from roads and parking lots, and requires a free permit which is issued at the Visitor Center. The nearest hotel and private campground is in Whites City, just at the entrance to the park. Call 800-CAVERNS or (575)785-2291 for more information.

The town of Carlsbad, NM also has numerous lodging options. For a list of businesses, contact the Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce at (575) 887-6516 or online.

Pets:

Pets are allowed in the park but keep in mind traveling with your companion will limit available activities. Pets are not allowed on park trails, off roads, or in the cave. Pets need to be on a leash no longer than six feet in length (or in a cage) at all times. You are not allowed to leave your pet unattended in vehicles when the outdoor temperature exceeds 70 degrees Fahrenheit as it creates a danger to the animal.

The park concessioner, Carlsbad Caverns Trading, operates a kennel service where you may leave your pet in a temperature controlled environment while you tour the cave. The kennel is for day use only, not into the evening or overnight. For specific questions, contact them at (575) 785-2281.

Contact Info:

By Mail:
Carlsbad Caverns National Park
3225 National Parks Highway
Carlsbad, New Mexico 88220

Phone:
General Park Information: (575) 785-2232 Bat Flight Information: (575) 785-3012

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